Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Handful of Time

I decided to give the 1989 Nowegian film, A Handful of Time (En Handful Tid), directed by Martin Asphaug and starring Espen Skjønberg, Camilla Strøm-Henriksen, Nicolay Lange-Nielsen and Bjørn Sundquist, a try after being impressed with the poster. The poster in muted colour features a man in nude, with a white headband, carrying a woman towards deep waters. I found the poster mesmerising, there was something primal, something erotic about it.

The film itself, which was the best Norwegian film of the year, and was Norway’s entry to the Oscars that year, is sort of primal, a tale of survival and loss, told with a visual flair, featuring the rugged, lonely hills of the Norwegian countryside in 1930s (though there are some lovely tracking shots which you may consider unnecessary in the context of the action depicted on screen.).

Then you realise that something is indeed very odd about the film, it doesn’t completely lead to a resolution, or redemption for the central character. Thing go really out of hand, when, towards the end, an English gentleman (Sir Nigel Howthorne of The Madness of King George fame) materialises out of nowhere to tell the protagonist that time is not actually linear, but round, and the events of past, present and future take place at the same time. More so, when the film goes out of its way to prove the point, by establishing that incest and abuse are more rampant than you would ever imagine.

The film is at once about incest, a tragic love story and the burden of memory, and it pushes you to the brink of despair when the three strands of the plot fails to come together in a cohesive end, especially when it’s a brilliant film in most parts.

After attending the 50th birthday of his son, Martin, who lives in an old-age home, starts hallucinating about his wife Anna, who died while giving birth to their son. As he realises that death is imminent, he begins to hear his wife’s voice, and despite the protest from his son, embarks on a journey to the west, where he had met Anna and where lies her tomb.

From this point the film begins to oscillate between the past and the present, with an older Martin visiting the places where a younger Martin had spent perhaps the best year of his life.

After his father is dead in a freak accident, Martin decides to leave home to rear horses when he was forced to take Anna with him, because she has been sexually harassed by her father. As they journey ahead, the young couple starts in an awkward footing, which later strengthen when Anna kills her marauding father who had pursued her all the way. Soon, they become lovers (this is where the beautiful scene depicted in the poster occurs), and take shelter with a family with incestuous history. This is where the film gains momentum where Anna tries to understand the queer couple who are also siblings, and their half-brother Henrik, who may really be insane. The doomed tale of the family, told with all the props of a gothic horror story, is perhaps the best part of the film, which gives the floundering narrative is emotional core.

From here the film moves ahead to depict how Anna dies during the childbirth, and how Martin failed to help the love of his life. This thread of the tale is fractured by the adventures of the older Martin, who travels to the mountain, falls ill, recovers, and again travels onwards to find his wife’s grave, only to encounter another father abusing his daughter, whom Martin kills as an act of redemption.

As the film ends with Martin lying in front of Anna’s grave, you wonder what it was all about.

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